Autism BrainNet: A network of postmortem brain banks established to facilitate autism research

Handb Clin Neurol. 2018;150:31-39. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63639-3.00003-7.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects over 1% of the population worldwide. Developing effective preventions and treatments for autism will depend on understanding the genetic perturbations and underlying neuropathology of the disorder. While evidence from magnetic resonance imaging and other noninvasive techniques points to altered development and organization of the autistic brain, these tools lack the resolution for identifying the cellular and molecular underpinnings of the disorder. Postmortem studies of high-quality human brain tissue currently represent the only viable option to pursuing these types of studies. However, the availability of high-quality ASD brain tissue has been extremely limited. Here we describe the establishment of a privately funded tissue bank, Autism BrainNet, a network of brain collection sites that work in a coordinated fashion to develop an adequate library of human postmortem brain tissues. Autism BrainNet was initiated as a collaboration between the Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks, and is currently funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Autism BrainNet has collection sites (nodes) in California, Texas, New York, and Massachusetts; an affiliated, international node is located in Oxford, England. All donations to this network become part of a consolidated pool of tissue that is distributed to qualified investigators worldwide to carry out autism research. An essential component of this program is a widespread outreach program that highlights the need for postmortem brain donations to families affected by autism, led by the Autism Science Foundation. Challenges include an outreach campaign that deals with a disorder beginning in early childhood, collecting an adequate number of donations to deal with the high level of biologic heterogeneity of autism, and preparing this limited resource for optimal distribution to the greatest number of investigators.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; brain; donation; neurodevelopment; outreach; pediatric.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder* / pathology
  • Autistic Disorder* / therapy
  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Information Systems*
  • Tissue Banks / supply & distribution
  • Tissue Banks / trends*